Sunday, August 14, 2005

Fugue State


January 7, 1974.
I lay down on the x-ray table and tried to maintain a cynical, tough-as-rawhide attitude. The effort was exhausting and ultimately pointless since I had little or no recall of what had happened. Palm Springs General Hospital was decorated in desert pastels. The walls of the x-ray room were a pale sandy rose, and I wondered what they would find. My neck muscles ached from where I had clenched them tightly. "Take a deep breath, dear," said Raylene, the x-ray technician whose nameplate was also in a desert pastel color. "Now release."

Repeating the sequence several times, the x-ray machine clicked and whirred. I tried not to think of what they might find. Something was causing blackouts and whatever seemed to be happening to me. I could no longer deny it, nor could I conceal it. It was no wonder I was considered a freak and a nerd at school. Since I could never remember the "episodes," I shuddered to think how many I might have had in class or in the hall.

"You are a very pretty girl, Ophelia," said Raylene. "You look just like a painting I saw in a book once. Actually, I think it was called, 'Ophelia,' too. I'll bet you have lots of admirers back home."

"Not really," I mumbled, trying to be polite. What boy would possibly like me? I was an embarrassment, a blot on society. I thought briefly of Marcus, and wondered with alarm if I had suffered a brief "episode" in his presence.

In the doctor's office, I fixed my eyes intently on the reproduction of Marcel Duchamps' modernist painting, Nude Descending a Staircase. The fragmented, angular arms and legs, the multiple images of a body in motion made me think of frames of a film superimposed upon each other. It was the record of discrete moments in time frozen onto a single moment in time. It displayed repetition of an action, but with gaps, and with the color effectively bled from it. The painting effectively represented in visual form the condition of my memory.

"We can definitely rule out a brain tumor, aneurism, or any other dramatic organic cause for what is happening," said Dr. Spangarten to Dad and myself.

"It is a shame her mother cannot be here at this time, too," said Dad. "This is going to be a great relief for her."

It was not much of a relief for me, though. At least they could do something about something like a tumor or an aneurism. It would be an explanation.

"We could do more tests, but I don't really see the point," continued the neurologist. "I will recommend following up when you get back home, and I will make a few referrals. Do you have any questions?"

Dr. Spangarten looked at me. Dad responded instead.

"That should do it. We will definitely follow up," he said, then stopped suddenly as he noticed me starting to shift my weight and squirm in my chair.

"Sorry, Ophelia," he said. "Did you want to ask a question?"

I looked up, paused, and looked into Dr. Spangarten's ruddy face, thinning and well-groomed hair. He looked like he spent some time on the golf course, I thought. He probably had one of the houses I saw while riding my bike to the canyon horseback riding place. They were white stucco with ornate desert gardens and pools in the back. Or, it was possible he lived near Marcus. The thought gave me a small knot in my stomach.

In addition to Duchamps, Dr. Spangarten's wall had a reproduction of Giacomo Balla's painting of the multiple, superimposed moving images still painting of a dachshund on a leash. It, together with Nude Descending a Staircase, perfectly represented my emotional and cognitive states.

I nodded slightly.

"Yes. What is it that has been happening, then?" I asked. "I know we don't know why."

"I think that you have been having mild seizures. It could be a very mild form of epilepsy. Or, it could be a hormonal or an electrolyte imbalance. Those are things you can find out when you get home," said Dr. Spangarten. Despite the grim news, his voice sounded kind, non-judgmental.

"Oh. Is there anything they can do?" I asked.

"Yes, there are any number of things. I would recommend that you speak to a therapist as well. There may be something precipitating them as well that is not organic," he continued.

So he did think I was a nut case.

Oh well. That made two of us.


On the drive back to the hotel, I made a suggestion to Dad.

"I think we should call Marcus and see if he wants to go check out his map," I said. Dad nodded his assent.

"That's a good idea." He rolled down the window. The day was surprisingly cool, and the Santa Ana winds had died down. The air was crisp and so clear the colors stung the eyes.

"This weekend?" I asked.

"Good." He smiled. "Let's do it."